Big Green hopeful Lions might be cure
What a difference two weeks makes. Sitting at 5-0 and on a 22-game unbeaten streak, the Columbia game was circled as the opportunity to break Penn's Division I-AA record unbeaten streak of 24 games. Now, after consecutive drubbings at the hands of Lehigh and Harvard on Memorial Field, the Big Green bring their tattered reputation and season to New York in desperate search of a win to keep their Ivy title hopes alive.
Though battered much of the season, that has been impressive in putting together back-to-back wins over Yale and Princeton. The Lions may play ugly, smashmouth football, but Dartmouth must elevate their play to beat their 3-4 foes from the Big Apple.
What has happened to Pete Sellers '98? After opening the season on a hot streak, the senior quarterback has struggled in the past two games, throwing for only one touchdown while tossing eight interceptions. Dartmouth's passing game has stalled as the offense has had little success running the football and Sellers has been pressing and as a result is making poor decisions with the football.
Columbia quarterback Bobby Thomason has been an anomaly during his two seasons at the helm of the Lions. Though his passing numbers are consistenly uninspiring (7 TD, 11 INT), he has been able to lead his team to 11 victories in the past two seasons. He is an athletic, scrambling quarterback whose biggest asset is his ability to run the football.
For the first time in the John Lyons era, Dartmouth ranks last in the league in running the footbal. The disappearance of Dylan Karczewski '99 has been particularly noticeable. After averaging over 100 yards a game for the first four weeks, Karzcewski has been a non-factor in the Big Green offense because of his inability to pound the football. Head Coach John Lyons wants to take a good look at Reggie Belhomme '00 in tomorrow's contest.
The Lions aren't much better than Dartmouth running the ball, averaging just under 100 yards a game. But their running attack has come alive in the past few weeks and allowed Columbia to win back-to-back games.
Dartmouth's receivers have suffered as a result of the lack of production on the part of the whole offense, but they are not free of blame. Plenty of passes found their way off of the hands of Big Green receivers last week. The last thing Sellers needs is to have receivers not being able to hold onto the football. However, Zach Ellis '98 continues to carry this unit with his big play as demonstrated by his four catch, 96 yard performance against Harvard.
Bert Bondi is the Lions only legitimate threat to catch the ball, as he is tied with Ellis for sixth place among Ivy League receivers with 28 catches on the season. Unfortunately for Columbia, he is the only one catching the ball as their next best receiver has only 14 catches.
The Big Green need to regroup after last week's beating from the Crimson defensive front. After protecting Sellers in the first half of the season, giving up only one sack in four games, the line has had trouble giving him time to throw without men in his face. The lack of a running game is not allowing Dartmouth to keep teams honest, so they are continually blitzing Sellers and causing mistakes.
Columbia did an excellent job of shutting down Princeton's defense, as they were able to run the ball effectively during last week's rain-drenched contest. The line gets a boost from having a mobile quarterback in Thomason who can move out of the pocket if it collapses.
Dartmouth's defensive line should be able to get pressure on Thomason, but, more than getting sacks, they must contain him and not allow him to run. The line, when combined with Zach Walz '98 and Jon Gibbs '99's 168 tackles, are a formiable front for the Big Green.
Columbia's defense has been weakened by their soft play upfront, allowing the most rushing yards in the league. They must be able to respond to Dartmouth's new schemes to run the ball.
Previously one of the most vaunted areas of the defense, the secondary's play has been steady, but the turnover production has dropped for the Big Green. After intercepting eight passes in the first three weeks, Dartmouth has only one in the past two contests.
The Lions pass defense has been a strength, led by Chris Tillotson's six interceptions on the season.
The special teams for Dartmouth were a non-factor last week. Although still the best overall unit in the Ivy League, the special team's importance has grown because of the offense's inability to move the football. As a result, winning the field position battle by punting the football and getting good returns has become vital to the health of the Dartmouth offense.
Columbia's special teams have been neither spectacular nor disappointing, but are not in the same caliber as the Big Green.
Dartmouth is trying to keep their dreams of an Ivy title alive while Columbia is just trying to get back to .500. While both teams desperately want this win, this is a must-win situation for Dartmouth.
Clearly Dartmouth is the favorite in this contest, but don't jump to conclusions about the outcome. Dartmouth has better players at almost every position, but Columbia is on a winning streak and the Big Green must find their confidence.
The offense was tinkered with this week in practice in hopes of jump-starting the running game. If Dartmouth runs the football effectively and contains Thomason, they will win this game easily.
This game will not be a shootout; Columbia doesn't have the weapons. But if they contain the running game and force Sellers to beat them in the air, Columbia will linger around longer than they should.
Final Score: Big Green 24, Lions 7